Some boxers are luckier than others. Some are really unlucky. Maybe you don’t believe in luck. There’s a saying about how the harder you work, the better you prepare, the luckier you get, and it’s a good saying. But luck is a useful concept. There are some fighters who, no matter how hard they prepare, still end up with the breaks not going their way. So if the word “luck” doesn’t mean much to you, maybe you could say they aren’t unlucky — they just have a habit of getting screwed.
This is a list of five of those boxers, chosen from among active fighters. Some of them have been busy being unlucky or screwed lately. Overall, it’s happened a good deal in the last month or two, thus the reason for listing them now. Your nominations are welcome — surely, there’s someone missing.
In no particular order:
Ali Funeka, lightweight
How is he like Tsutomu Yamaguchi? Funeka came to America to fight Nate Campbell in 2009 for one of Campbell’s belts. When Funeka showed up, Campbell — himself the recipient of a lot of bad luck — failed to make weight. That gave Campbell an advantage in the sense that he could take Funeka’s punches better, but it also sapped his stamina. In the end, a fight that could have been ruled a draw or a Funeka win instead was ruled a decision win for Campbell. Adding insult to injury, when he returned to his home country, he found himself in political hot water with the South African government for failing to clear the Campbell fight with them or something like that.
He got unluckier.
He got passed over for a title shot or two, but eventually ended up with Joan Guzman for a vacant belt in late 2009. Funeka smacked Guzman around so much his corner threatened to stop the fight in the 12th round, and yet Guzman walked away with a draw that counted as one of the most disgraceful verdicts of the year, one that again left Guzman without . This time, though, he stayed in the title picture, and Rolando Reyes was selected as his opponent. Only Reyes pulled out of the fight, which left Funeka fighting an undeserving Guzman again in March. Wouldn’t you know it: Guzman came in overweight, and by a lot — nine pounds. Needing a paycheck and wanting the title, Funeka fought on, and Guzman, who clearly made no effort to get down to 135 because he looked fresh as a daisy, walked away with the decision win. Afterward, Funeka tested positive for a banned substance, a diuretic.
Did he make his own luck? Maybe Funeka should have passed on the Campbell fight and second Guzman fight, as would have been his right, but that’s two wasted training camps and plane tickets and a lot of money down the drain. He definitely is to blame for the diuretic, even if the explanation about a misinformed doctor making an innocent mistake is truthful. Boxers are ultimately responsible for what goes in their bodies, and the only question is how sympathetic you are to their excuse.
Could his luck change? As of this month at last report, he’s suspended in Nevada for the banned substance, so the prospects of changed luck are thin in the short term. If the alphabet sanctioning organizations had any sense of justice, the IBF would have not held it against Funeka that he lost to an over-the-limit Guzman. Instead, he’s nowhere to be found in their rankings.
Fres Oquendo, heavyweight
How is he like Tsutomu Yamaguchi? You can make the case that Oquendo should be undefeated for the last four years, instead of owning three losses. All three of those losses — to Evander Holyfield in 2006, to James Toney in 2008 and to Jean-Marc Mormeck this month — have been called robberies. I saw the Toney fight. Oquendo definitely deserved that win.
Compounding the misery is that even at their advanced ages, Holyfield and Toney were still huge names in the sport when Oquendo beat them, and a win would have changed his career. Mormeck isn’t as big a name as those two, but he’s very popular in his native France and could turn into a player in the heavyweight division. If Oquendo had won all three of those decisions, would he be a credible opponent to be brought in for a fight on HBO and all the money that goes with it? When you consider that he beat a few decent journeymen over that time span as well, would he maybe even be on the verge of a top 10 ranking? It’s a shame.
Did he make his own luck? Oquendo fights in a counterpunching style that sometimes misleads judges into thinking his opponent is getting more done than he is. You could say he should be more aggressive to ensure that he convinces the judges he deserves the victory, but ultimately that’s more the judges’ fault than his.
Could his luck change? It was amazing that he got a third shot at a big name, given how he almost upset the apple cart the first two times. It’s hard to imagine him getting a fourth.
Steve Cunningham, cruiserweight
How is he like Tsutomu Yamaguchi? For a while, Cunningham had a tough time getting fights in the United States, despite a great back story, winning personality and engaging fighting style for a fairly light-hitting boxing technician. When he finally got a big one in 2008 for the lineal championship of the world, he delivered a Fight of the Year candidate against Tomasz Adamek. The fight looked to many like a draw, but Adamek got the slight edge on the scorecards.
Despite the bad luck of not getting the win, it was the kind of performance that enhanced Cunningham’s rep, and should have led to a rematch or at least another appearance on TV. Unfortunately for Cunningham, his promoter is Don King, who has his own reputation these days — for not getting his fighters in the ring often enough. Also, none of the channels that broadcast boxing wanted to pay for Adamek-Cunningham II for some inexplicable reason. So Cunningham got himself into a position to force the fight to happen when he won a title eliminator against Wayne Braithwaite to become Adamek’s mandatory challenger, only to watch Adamek move to the heavyweight division.
At least that left him the chance to fight for a vacant title against Matt Godfrey March 26, but King botched the contract with ESPN2 and canceled the card, and when Main Events tried to revive it, Godfrey decided he didn’t want the fight under those circumstances. So to summarize: Since what should have been a star-making performance against Adamek in 2008, he’s fought once, lost out on a rematch with Adamek two different ways and had his consolation prize canceled twice.
Did he make his own luck? You’d think boxers would recognize by now that if you sign with King, he’s going to sit on you instead of working to get you a fight. But they keep signing with him. Also, maybe if he’d fought a touch smarter against Adamek he would have won, but then, he also wouldn’t have been in a bout so exciting as to generate a lot of buzz for himself.
Could his luck change? It looks like it’s on an upward swing. He’s free from King and recently signed with Sauerland Event, and he’ll be fighting for that vacant title June 5 against Troy Ross, which figures to be a more exciting fight than the bout against Godfrey. But if he loses a close decision on the scorecards, it would just kind of figure.
Celestino Caballero, featherweight
How is he like Tsutomu Yamaguchi? With Paul Williams getting so much love from HBO and therefore offering bigger paydays to his opponents, Caballero probably has replaced Williams as the most avoided fighter of them all. His absurd height and volume of punches makes him an unappetizing foe. Consider that since 2007, Caballero has inhabited junior featherweight or featherweight at times when those divisions were amongst the best in the sport.
Yet from 2007 to 2008, the two best men at 122, Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez, put on such exciting shows against one another that nobody wanted to see them fight anyone but each other. The emerging star in the division, Juan Manuel Lopez, did everything he could not to fight Caballero. Caballero chased him up to featherweight, but Lopez’ team at Top Rank was trying to set up a showdown with stablemate Yuriorkis Gamboa. Gamboa, at least, made overtures about fighting Caballero, but he and his team apparently reconsidered after watching Caballero throttle Daud Yordan, because as of this week the fight is reportedly off for good, according to BoxingScene.
He’s been considered among the elite of each division, but he hasn’t fought a fellow elite divisionmate.
Did he make his own luck? It’s not that Caballero doesn’t have an argument for deserving a nice payday against Lopez or Gamboa, but considering that he’s been unable to truly break through since scoring a breakthrough win in 2005, he probably needs to give a lot of thought to taking short money in order to get one of those big, big fights. If he gets one of them and wins, then he’ll be in position for more people to want to fight him because he’ll be “the man” and he’ll command bigger paydays for his opponents. After all, Elio Rojas appears poised to take Caballero’s spot as Gamboa’s next opponent for not much more money than Caballero was offered, and I don’t hear him complaining.
Could his luck change? I’ve been wrong before about boxers without fan bases getting too picky about paychecks, like Joshua Clottey getting a big one against Manny Pacquiao despite being in a weak negotiating position. So maybe the “give me more money” strategy can work. But it can also backfire, a la Winky Wright fighting once in three years. Another boost to Caballero’s luck is that he’s now promoted by Lou DiBella, who has connections and a reputation for being a deal-maker.
DeMarcus Corley, junior welterweight
How is he like Tsutomu Yamaguchi? Corley was left for dead after a series of losses from 2005 to 2008. But in 2009, he was served to a Golden Boy Promotions prospect, Hector Sanchez, who needed the credibility that a win over even a shot version of Corley would give his resume. But Corley didn’t fight like he was shot. He deserved the decision win. The judges gave it to Sanchez instead.
That near-win nonetheless gave Corley a shot at collecting another nice paycheck or two, and he traveled to Russia to take on prospect Fariz Kazimov. Kazimov got the split decision in a fight that most people considered even more of a robbery than the Sanchez loss. If you look at the five or so worst decisions of 2009, Corley’s name is in two of them.
Once more, though, Corley got a shot at another prospect in 2010. This time, the fight was at welterweight, and he wasn’t big enough for Freddy Hernandez, who knocked him out. Getting knocked out isn’t about luck most of the time, but it still added insult to injury.
Did he make his own luck? Taking the Hernandez fight was probably a bad idea, although if you’re a 35-year-old coming off two losses in the previous year — no matter how bad those decisions were — maybe you think you have no choice. He also had moments of inactivity in the Sanchez fight, although when you’re a 35-year-old that happens.
Could his luck change? If he gets his mitts on another junior welterweight prospect, and he just might because of the credibility factor, maybe the judges give him the win in a close fight this time around, but I wouldn’t bet on it. And the older he gets, the harder it is for him to hang with the young guys. It may be that the time he could have used luck to help push him over the edge has come and gone — next time, he might not even be at the edge.
Unlucky Honorable Mentions
Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez got screwed out of a win over Kermit Cintron last year in several different ways, then lost a close decision to Paul Williams in his next fight, but he didn’t need luck to take away Kelly Pavlik’s championship belt this year… In 2008, welterweight Delvin Rodriguez gravely injured an opponent in the ring, Oscar Diaz, then went 0-2-1 in title fights/title eliminators against Isaac Hlatshwayo and Rafal Jackiewicz where he could have gone 3-0; on the other hand, those fights were all close, and few consider them out-and-out rip-offs… Light heavyweight Glen Johnson has a rep for losing close decisions and being avoided, but after his last close decision loss, against Chad Dawson in 2008, he got a rematch a year later and lost it fair and square… Campbell was a victim of an overweight Guzman himself, in 2008, leading to him going bankrupt when Guzman pulled out of the fight, then Campbell had a long feud with King that kept him out of the ring; by the time he got back into it, he was over the hill, appearing faded against Timothy Bradley in 2009 (in a fight that ended with a head butt) and Victor Ortiz in 2010…
Clottey had the disputed disqualification loss to Carlos Baldomir in 1999, followed by the appearance that he was on his way to upsetting Antonio Margarito in 2006 before injuring his hands, followed by the close decision loss he suffered to Miguel Cotto; that said, it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who fought so tepidly while getting a huge paycheck against Pacquiao in a high-profile bout, and he probably has himself to blame in part for his losses to Margarito and Cotto… Andre Dirrell in 2009 lost a decision to Carl Froch in Showtime’s super middleweight tournament that looked to many (including myself) like a huge mistake on the part of the judges, then got clobbered while on the ground in his next fight in 2010 against Arthur Abraham, although the pain of that punch may have been offset by a career-best performance against a pound-for-pound top fighter… I finish with what I expect to be the most controversial nominee: It’s not welterweight Kermit Cintron’s fault that he twice got knocked out by Margarito, whose gloves may have been loaded in those fights if you believe the 2009 glove-loading incident wasn’t a one-time thing, and it’s not his fault that he fell out of the ring against Williams this month to lead to a decision loss; but it is his fault that he handled the Martinez fight so poorly during and after, and for all his bellyaching about not getting on HBO before bested opponent Alfredo Angulo it was partially his fault for passing up an HBO offer to fight in Puerto Rico instead, and arguably — arguably — he could have done more to have gotten back into the ring against Williams.